A veteran journalist on regional affairs
Kavi Chongkittavorn is a veteran journalist on regional affairs
In Bandar Seri Begawan, whether Asean leaders decide to upgrade China and Australia's dialogue status to comprehensive strategic partnership (CSP) this week or defer it to a later date will be a weather vane of the bloc's future engagement and management with the great powers, especially over the ripple effects of the US-China rivalry and potential military build-up.
Thailand's human rights record will be the subject of global scrutiny on Nov 10. The members of the UN Human Rights Council will examine the country's performance during its third universal periodic review (UPR). It will be an extraordinary event for Thailand as it is battling both domestic political turmoil and the coronavirus pandemic, which has allegedly led to numerous unwarranted violations of human rights.
Never before in the 54-year history of Asean had its members encountered such a bitter debate about the situation in Myanmar as they did last Monday when they unknowingly nearly tore down the founding fathers’ commitment to keep the Asean roof over all countries in Southeast Asia.
The current strategic situation is not quite the same as Asean faced in its early days, but there are several similar characteristics. The rivalry between the two then superpowers -- the US and the former Soviet Union -- was visible and rising incrementally and would soon reach its peak. Fuelling the enmity was their ideological differences -- free world versus orthodox communism. Today, the fight is about technological supremacy and governance.
The whole country has been shocked by a video clip of a rogue police officer torturing a drug suspect to death last month. The Thai public generally know and accept that the Thai police are not good cops but to watch them from their living rooms so blatantly torturing a man was a bit too much. The drama helped lawmakers pass the draft bill on prevention and suppression of torture and enforced disappearances last week without any objection; that same bill that was quickly dismissed in the parliamentary debate some six years ago.
It is difficult to imagine the region or the world without US involvement. After the Afghanistan debacle, it has become increasingly clear that President Joe Biden is in reverse gear with his new doctrine. The rest of the world must now come to grips with this new reality, which could come as fast as the collapse of Kabul.
Sixteen years after the idea was first broached, Thailand is planning to set up its first ever cultural centre overseas. Culture Minister Ittiphol Khunpluem revealed last week that the centre would be in China. This new move comes at a time when Thai-Chinese relations are in an excellent shape, moving at a fast pace even in the time of the pandemic. Since last year, the Chinese Lunar New Year is now a national holiday.
Vice President Kamala Harris was right in stating that when the history of the 21st century is written, most of it will be centred right here in the Indo-Pacific. But she forgot to add that the approach taken by the US will also be mentioned because of its many fault lines. Three points can be discerned when it comes to the Biden administration's attitude towards the region.
The Taliban's victory is still fresh but unintended consequences that can impact the regional and global strategic environment are not difficult to discern. The first two weeks of its rule have already evoked vivid and unpleasant memories of past practices that brought outside powers to this rugged mountainous corner of the world. The future of this nation will remain unsettled for a long time to come. The first indicator has been the Afghan people themselves, who have showed their bravery during their 101th independence day last week by opposing the use of the Taliban's flag.